Child Myths

Straight talk about child development.

A Survivor Under Attack

Once mistreated by an intrusive "therapy", a survivor is still under attack.

It's disturbing enough to think that a young woman may be living with the memory of physically-intrusive, painful, and frightening treatment during her childhood. It's even more disturbing to realize that the abuse she experienced was declared to be psychotherapy and sold under that name. But if you want to feel really disturbed, add to this distressing mix the idea that people are attacking the blog with which she is trying to find other people with the same experiences--- that, time and again, accusations of copyright violation have been sent to the blog's hosting company, although no such violation has occurred.

Although I've had many e-mail exchanges with the person I've described, I don't know her real name. Her life has not encouraged her to trust others, and the evidence seems to be that she's right to be wary. She's known to some of us by the name "Wayward Radish", one she chose because her "treatment" was supposed to be for Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), and some practitioners of phony therapies call such children "RADishes".

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The treatment Wayward Radish experienced was "holding therapy", sometimes called "attachment therapy", a potentially harmful treatment that involves physical restraint and pressure on the body, and is often accompanied by withholding of food and other normal comforts. If readers are interested in the details of this practice, you can see them in "Attachment Therapy on Trial" (Mercer, Sarner, & Rosa; Praeger, 2003), an account of the death of Candace Newmaker, a child who was suffocated in the course of holding therapy. However, be warned: this is the stuff of nightmares, and the information certainly should not be made available to children.

WR (for short) runs a blog called "A Search for Survivors" ( which tells the stories of individuals who have gone through holding therapy. Material on the blog has bluntly named practitioners who are known to have practiced or recommended holding therapy and similar practices. Apparently in response to this material, the hosting company has received various complaints suggesting that there have been copyright violations that are prohibited under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), an act intended to protect copyrighted publications from being used without permission.

The rules under DMCA require the hosting company to notify the person managing an Internet site and to allow them time to state their arguments about any use of copyrighted material. Not all uses of copyrighted material are violations; "fair use" includes reproduction of certain amounts of the material for critical or educational purposes, or even for parody. It's a complicated matter, and when hosting companies receive complaints they don't always follow all the rules, being anxious (generally) to avoid lawsuits that might follow if there really had been copyright violation. This has happened to Wayward Radish, as can be seen at

Although complaints under DMCA can be perfectly legitimate, they can also be ways to annoy hosting companies, worry them about potential expensive lawsuits, and convince them that a particular web site is too much trouble to host. Ways in which DMCA complaints can interfere with freedom of speech are described in detail at, which fortunately also has some suggestions for fighting back against this kind of attack. Some hosting companies are very concerned about this problem and enthusiastically defend their clients, but it is not necessarily easy to find out which these are.

It's hard enough to imagine that anyone in this day and age would believe that physical restraint is therapeutic for a little boy or girl. It's even harder to imagine that a person who has been through this mistreatment must later contend with efforts to keep her from finding other survivors and educating the public. Have a look at "A Search for Survivors" (link above), and I think you'll want to express your support to Wayward Radish and the other survivors she's discovered.

By the way, have you always thought that professional licensing boards would prevent practitioners from doing anything inappropriate? Are you surprised to hear that some psychologists or social workers have been involved in the kind of "treatment" Wayward Radish received? Well, the trick is this: we don't allow children to file complaints about professional misconduct, and they wouldn't know how to do it if we did allow them to. We expect parents to be the buffer between the child and inappropriate professional actions. But if parents don't know something is wrong-- or even think it's a good idea--- there is no one left to take the responsibility. That's one reason why web sites like "A Search for Survivors" have an important job of public education to do.


Jean Mercer is a developmental psychologist with a special interest in parent-infant relationships.


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